by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
September 20, 2012
ONE YEAR LATER, THE SPIRIT OF OCCUPY IS STILL ALIVE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- A year ago this week, the Occupy movement was born in Zuccotti Park in New York.
The novelty of the movement hinged on a simple act. Instead of having a rally and going home at the end of it, people had a rally and stayed.
More importantly, they did more than just occupy a park a few blocks way from Wall Street. In the space of a few weeks, they went from being a curiosity that was mostly ignored by the media to something that captured the attention of millions of Americans who sensed that our nation's political, economic and social systems no longer work, but never had a way to articulate those feelings until Occupy.
Zuccotti Park became a city unto itself, with a kitchen, a first-aid center, a library, and other services. Like the occupations in Athens, Madrid and Cairo earlier last year, protesters didn't just talk about the need to remake society; they structured their protest encampments to be an example of what a fair society could look like.
By offering a model of collective action and living as it protested, they offered a new model of dissent for he era of social media, smart phones and WiFi - a decentralized, non-violent social movement without charismatic leaders, sound bite-friendly goals, or a particular endpoint - that made the conscious decision to protest first and find solutions later.
Occupy's defiant chant, "We are the 99 percent," instantly crystalized the reality that the 99 percent of Americans who aren't wealthy have been effectively disenfranchised by the 1 percent of Americans who control most of this nation's wealth.
In those heady days of last October, as Occupy encampments and protests popped up from coast to coast, the authorities didn't quite know how to react. They didn't know what to do with a movement that spent more time asking questions than it did coming up with answers, that sought to ask Americans to reconsider our current economic system and come up with something more humane and equitable.
Yes, Occupy was something new for Americans. The collective courage of a small group of determined people set into motion a force that did not end once the cops came and closed down the encampments last November.
Thanks to Occupy, more and more Americans now realize that capitalism no longer works for the 99 percent of Americans who aren't super-wealthy.
Because the people involved with Occupy made connections between three decades of policies designed to benefit the richest 1 percent at the expense of everyone else, and the nearly non-existent recovery from the 2007-08 financial meltdown, more and more Americans now realize that austerity is no longer the only option for the U.S. economy, and are pushing the politicians to act accordingly.
And the smartest thing the Occupy people did was to not endorse candidates, or side with a political party. The co-opting of the Madison protests in Wisconsin by the Democrats in the failed recall attempt of Gov. Scott Walker in June was a perfect illustration of the dangers of a protest movement getting sucked into electoral politics.
That's because the moral power and legitimacy of Occupy stemmed from it not being aligned with a candidate or a party. As a result, it had more room to redefine our nation's priorities and offer an alternative vision to the current politics of greed and fear.
Occupy may have been slowed by the backlash by the law and its enforcers, and by the people in the media who reflexively side with those in authority, but after one year, it is far from done. That's because the biggest legacy of Occupy, more than just changing the public conversation and putting economic inequality front and center in the political arena, has been creating a new generation of political activists.
The young people who earned their stripes last fall in Zuccotti Park can now be found in environmental campaigns such as the fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline, as organizers for labor unions, or leading the fight against predatory lenders. They have built the kind of relationships that are needed to carry on the fight for social justice over the long term.
And make no mistake, Occupy is about the long term.
People-powered change rarely happens quickly. It always happens in fits and starts, but it eventually happens, because the power of the rulers is no match for the power of truth.
AR Chief Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.